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NFL Draft Today’s Focus: Defensive Backs

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Former TCU cornerback Jason Verrett says he fits well in Carolina Panthers’ scheme

TCU Oklahoma St Football
Sue Ogrocki - AP
TCU cornerback Jason Verrett (2) can't hold onto a pass intended for Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart (5), but in the past two seasons he had 38 pass breakups, the most in the country.

Jason Verrett has everything you would want in an NFL cornerback – fluid hips, a great burst and a cool nickname.

The only thing Verrett doesn’t have is size.

A 5-foot-9, 189-pound former Texas Chrtistian standout, he is quick to point out several other short-statured defensive backs who’ve had success in the NFL.

“Captain Munnerlyn, Brent Grimes, Tyrann Mathieu – all those guys are Pro Bowl-caliber guys and make a lot of plays,” Verrett said Wednesday. “Being that they’re about the same stature and size, it only motivates me even more to make plays on the field.”

Verrett potentially could be the Panthers’ replacement for 5-8 Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota in March after five seasons in Charlotte.

Verrett, the co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, was upset the Panthers did not formally interview him at the NFL scouting combine. Verrett believed his coverage and tackling skills made him a good fit for the Panthers’ Cover 2 scheme, and hoped to talk to them.

Verrett got his chance when Don Gregory, the Panthers’ college scouting director, and secondary coach Steve Wilks flew to Fort Worth, Texas, in March to work out Verrett the day after TCU’s pro day.

It turned out to be Verrett’s only private workout before he had shoulder surgery March 17 to repair the torn labrum he played through during his final season at TCU.

“Definitely if Carolina wants to take me, I’d love to be out there,” Verrett said during a phone interview from his family’s home in northern California. “I felt like I killed the (dry erase) board work. I understand their defense and their scheme and places where I would fit, whether it’s in the nickel or even on the outside.”

Verrett is projected as a late first- or early second-round pick. Because of Verrett’s height, most draft analysts believe he’ll start his career as a nickel back lined up against shorter, slot receivers.

Munnerlyn followed a similar path before emerging as a starting corner for the Panthers, who did not match the three-year, $11.25 million contract he received from the Vikings.

“Even though they lost him, he had a tremendous year last year,” Verrett said. “I feel like in that Cover 2 scheme where we’re playing a little bit of zone, a little bit of man and a little bit of trail – a couple things I can understand easily – it’s going to be hard for me not to make plays.”

Verrett made plenty of plays at TCU after a difficult debut. In his first game with the Horned Frogs after transferring from a California junior college in 2011, Verrett gave up a couple of big plays to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.

RGIII threw for 359 yards and five touchdowns in Baylor’s 50-48 win, launching his Heisman Trophy campaign and leaving Verrett feeling despondent.

“I didn’t want to give up and walk away from the game. It was more so just frustration that I gave up two big touchdowns, and then one on a trick play,” Verrett said.

“I was down on myself. It allowed me to mature and learn a lot more about the game – as a corner, learning there’s times when you’re going to get beat and learning how to handle those. It was a tough game, a tough moment, and a tough week. But I was able to bounce back those last two years.”

Verrett led the Horned Frogs in 2012 with six interceptions and 16 deflections. Over the past two seasons, no defensive back in the country had more pass breakups than his 38.

Along the way, he held his own against the likes of Louisiana State’s Odell Beckham. Verrett limited Beckham, one of the top receiving prospects in this year’s draft, to one catch while he was lined up against him.

Verrett ended his TCU career by holding Antwan Goodley, Baylor’s leading receiver, to one catch for 12 yards. The corner known as “Feeva Island” had come full circle.

Verrett said his high school friends used to call him J5 because his first name had five letters. Five became Feeva, which became Feeva Island – not unlike the “Revis Island” handle of New England Patriots corner Darrelle Revis.

“One day I might even try to trademark it,” Verrett said, laughing.

Verrett will be in New York for next week’s draft. And while he is expected to be chosen after top corners Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, Verrett doesn’t see himself slipping to the second round.

“If it’s in the first round I’m going to be happy, even though pick 32 will probably be a long time sitting in the green room,” he said. “But once that phone rings, I’m going to be crying tears of joy.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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